New York Times bestselling comic book artist and writer Ben Templesmith has won the Spike TV Scream Award, the International Horror Guild Award and frequent Eisner nominations for his work. As one of the four co-founders of dark art collective, 44FLOOD, along with Kasra Ghanbari, Nick Idell and menton3, Templesmith has been part of the spectacularly successful TOME and LUST Kickstarters. The popularity of 44FLOOD is such that they recently announced a partnership that will see IDW distributing future editions of their work.
Templesmith is not a figure entirely without controversy, however. After acting as the launch artist on J M Straczynski's Ten Grand series earlier in the year, Templesmith was dropped as artist at the beginning of September. At the time, Straczynski said "If we were doing a graphic novel we'd hire him again in a heartbeat." Well, now Templesmith IS working on a new graphic novel, THE SQUIDDER, and he's turned to Kickstarter to fund the production. With 16 days left to go and over $80,000 pledged already, UK comics journalist P M Buchan spoke to Ben Templesmith about THE SQUIDDER, 44FLOOD and what really went wrong with Ten Grand.
Let's get this out of the way first – what happened with Ten Grand?
A lot of things, I was dealing with family stuff & things a lot more important than comics but also an already massive workload & realization I have no business attempting to do the monthly grind comic, especially if it's not at least a creator owned thing.
Sorry to anyone who hoped I'd be able to stick around on Ten Grand but it's in good hands. I'm just not cut out for such a tough book and collapsed in a heap. Figuring out the motivations for why *I should do what I do* has been an ongoing process for the last few years. And money isn't everything. Feeling totally invested and owning what I do? Now that's everything, as I've discovered. It's what I built any sort of career on, and it's where my heart lies. Yet I've not written and drawn anything *for myself* for years now. WORMWOOD, FELL, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, WELCOME TO HOXFORD, CHOKER and such things were done for love & the pure passion of doing them. Not a "job". I can't really fathom the creatives who endlessly flit from corporate property to corporate property as the totality of a career.
For me those gigs are just fun side jobs.
If I'm lucky enough to follow my own destiny, I'd be a fool not to take that opportunity. And I've definitely been a fool.
44FLOOD seems to be the place where you do your best work now, why is that?
Well, I'm part of something larger there. I helped create it and its part of me. It's a way I can be creative and still be in control of what I create, of feeling invested and being with fellow creatives who've come together because we believe in the same ideals. And now with the IDW partnership & that amazing opportunity, we can reach a wider audience still, but keep what we hold dear.
What is THE SQUIDDER, and why does it need to be a graphic novel and not a monthly first?
Because a story is a story and monthlies are a format that grew because of an industry dynamic.
And because of Kickstarter.
People deserve the whole thing, not just a chunk to tease them with. It could well be released in chapters later but I'd rather do dedicated work for those who truly dig my work (and are willing to support me doing it, via something like a Kickstarter) before the wider world and audience of the traditional mass market perhaps get their hands on it. Those dedicated people deserve a fancy full hardcover before anyone else. I love the idea of serialized stories but I'm always working towards the collected version in my head anyway.
Thanks to Kickstarter, we can finance the printing and with luck, a little for me to live on while I do the book. Traditionally, a publisher has had to finance all that. It gives us great freedom to do things the way *a creative* wants, and lets us chose our own path, not purely for a business to recoup its investments. Going direct to dedicated consumers basically removes the middleman and leaves only the distribution side of things. And on a small scale, we'll still be handling that at 44FLOOD. We'll be mailing out every single damn one of the books when they're done. And honestly, I love having that connection to someone willing to plunk down some bucks for something *I* make. It makes it all worth it!
THE SQUIDDER itself? We'll, I do nothing but talk squid all day anyway. I've a love for all things tentacles and horror, so why not finally embrace it with a proper book I can let loose on? It's been a bunch of ideas in my head and in various notes for several years now. I just needed an overall narrative to fit a few things together and expand on the world I've created.
And that's where THE SQUIDDER himself comes in. He's a tired old man, built for a war long lost. He's got to come to terms with that loss and the changing world around him. None of those changes being good, mind you. Humanity didn't win. He's a vet, who lost everything and everyone else moved on. There's going to be lots of Squid religion involved, the heat death of the universe, ideas of control, propaganda… and a few sexy squid ladies and horrific fight scenes along the way.
And so many tentacles and Squid Things.
How do you find the experience of selling your work directly to fans through Kickstarter versus working for publishers?
It's tremendously rewarding. *We* are the publisher (Meaning 44FLOOD and on this thing, basically just me). You put your idea up and if enough people have interest, the thing gets made. It's grassroots, ground level stuff. It's between the creator and their audience first and foremost. The crowd funding model of working has a lot of benefits for someone's vision. I would say though, one thing that many mistake is that the amount of money raised on a campaign isn't profit. It's capital. And on things like TOME that 44FLOOD did previously it basically all goes into the book itself, or shipping ( Oh boy shipping, where internationally we ended up basically losing $30 a book each time we had to mail one… it's all a learning process! )
Mind you, if people don't like your ideas and the Kickstarter fails, well, you've just failed in front of everyone, publicly. It might not be for everyone to try… but it's an incredibly enabling system to allow creators to do books that perhaps corporate publishers wouldn't initially see as viable too. I am so incredibly lucky to have amazing people who so far, have let me do what I want to do. It's half the reason I wear suits at cons. I owe them that respect when I meet them and sign their books.
Doing the Kickstarter, and meeting our printing target and then some… basically now it's just about pre-ordering the book… means we can beef up what we want to do.
So I'm happy to announce we're going to make THE SQUIDDER BIGGER. Now its 144 pages and we're also throwing in a book mark. And we'll have more news on the way.
Out of all the people that have contributed to TOME and the other 44FLOOD books so far, whose work most excited you?
Having Dave McKean in TOME totally blew me away. And also the work of up and coming Shane Pierce, who's art I've fallen in love with, would be my total highlights.
What do you do when you're not creating art?
Generally… on a plane somewhere, which sucks. My body is steadily breaking down from all the travel to cons and such. I need to stop a lot of that for awhile and rest! I don't really have a hobby right now it seems… apart from D&D once a week. (Yes, I'm getting back into some Dungeons and Dragons) Sleep is also appreciated. I am incredibly boring.
If you were given the opportunity to go diving with giant squid in the sea, would you take it?
Sure. Though I think the pressure would crush me. I've already been swimming with sharks. I've already stared out at the frozen Arctic Ocean. I've already stood on the edge of a volcano. And I've already been to the most isolated human settlement in the world.
Hmm, maybe I'm not totally boring. I've had a rather lucky damn life!
What kind of rewards do you anticipate offering for pledges to THE SQUIDDER Kickstarter? 44FLOOD campaigns tend to have a lot of dark art on offer…
One thing I love to do, and have been doing it for years anyway, is drawing in books or creating special editions/limited runs all of my own via my own copies of an existing book (The Vodka Edition Wormwoods etc, of which there were only 10 with special sketches!) … so with THE SQUIDDER we're offering painted editions, sketch editions… and even squid ink editions. Yes, I have a brush pen and I can use squid ink. As well as even fancier slipcase editions, original art, commissions and even being drawn into the book. Basically, as involved as a creator can get you with his book, his work… without you standing over his shoulder and watching. (That'd be a little creepy and not be great for my concentration, sorry!) I'll be taking all the backers along with me for the journey of making the book too. Sneak peeks and vlogs, that sort of thing.
P M Buchan wants you to know that he's launching two new comics at Thought Bubble comic convention in Leeds this weekend: One is the second issue of his Gothic-horror series with artist Karen Yumi Lusted, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, which is a dark, feminist deconstruction of the myth of the femme fatale, inspired by the John Keats poem of the same name. The other is BLACKOUT II: YOLO, the satirical horror-comedy anthology co-created with Axolotl creator Jack Fallows and Kerrang! artist Phillip Marsden. This is the only comic in the UK that comes with a 100% guarantee that all creators involved are going to Hell, a throwback to a time when underground commix actually meant something, and it's becoming an annual rite of passage for every issue of BLACKOUT to be rejected by the first printer the team approach with it. Read more here.